Cecil County Primary Care Clinic Caught in Crossfire of New Law Aimed at Limiting Drug Treatment

January 17, 2012

Just as many community health leaders and two County Commissioners warned, a new law aimed at limiting locations of drug treatment clinics in Cecil County has tangled in its net a much-needed expansion of the primary care medical services offered by the West Cecil Health Center in Conowingo.

But Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4), who pushed the ordinance through despite concerns of the Planning Commission and the medical community, disavowed any responsibility for the threat to the West Cecil Health Center when the issue came up at a commissioners’ worksession Tuesday. She said she would “testify” in support of a zoning exception the clinic will need in order to continue the project. Construction began long before the new ordinance was enacted but Broomell has insisted the law be applied retroactively.

In a 1/13/12 letter to County Commissioners, Mark Rajkowski, executive director of the clinic –which provides primary care medical services for over 5,200 patients—pleaded for help and warned that a federal grant paying for expansion of the clinic was in jeopardy if strict deadlines for construction were not met due to the new clinic zoning rules. “I am afraid all will be lost,” Rajkowski wrote plaintively.

The non-profit West Cecil Health Center is a key health resource in the western area of the county and was created after community leaders sought to bring health care to an area that was designated as “medically underserved.” About 57 percent of its patients have no health insurance or are low-income and covered by Medicaid.

The clinic is currently constructing an expanded facility, designed to broaden its services to provide obstetrics, dentistry, X-ray and behavioral health services, with a federal grant that is paying most of the costs of the $3.28 million project. Ground was broken on the project 10/27/11, and there is a strict federal deadline for construction completion by 9/30/12. The county previously approved “fast track” designation for the project, meaning it would receive top priority to expedite needed permits and approvals.

But Rajkowski wrote that the new clinic law and its retroactive application to his clinic means that “there is a very real possibility that West Cecil Health Center would lose this grant” and be required to repay funds already received for the construction. “We don’t have the funds to pay back and this could mean the end of West Cecil Health Center,’ he added.

The problem is that under the new ordinance, any “clinic” must be located more than 200 feet from a residential zone. The design for the West Cecil clinic expansion puts the facility 179-feet from a residence on an adjoining property. And the clinic would be only 54-feet from the adjoining agricultural-residential zone.

Broomell’s earlier version of the ordinance did not provide any exceptions but after medical officials objected, she backed down slightly to allow provisions for a “special exception” to be considered by the county Board of Appeals on a case-by-case basis. But that process–which is like a court hearing with lawyers, witnesses, sworn testimony and mandatory advance advertising of cases pending before the Board—is a time-consuming and costly process.

The next slot on the Board of Appeals agenda, for which West Cecil has already applied, is 2/28/12, Rajkowski said, “but we really don’t have the time to wait…for a hearing.” He asked that the clinic be considered “grandfathered” and not required to go for the special exception since it was already under construction when the new law was passed.

County Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5) raised the concerns of the West Cecil clinic Tuesday, saying it was just what he had feared would happen when the new clinic ordinance was rushed through “rash and fast” rather than in a deliberative process. “This is a prime example of why I said this was a bad ordinance,” Hodge said.

Hodge has said he agreed with trying to craft a zoning ordinance that accounts for community concerns with drug treatment facilities but Commissioners needed to consider the objections of the medical community, and the county Planning Commission, that the definition of “clinic” was too broad and would ensnare community-supported medical facilities—such as West Cecil.

Broomell responded that she had told West Cecil officials she would “testify at the Board of Appeals hearing” in favor of a special exception.

Commissioner Tari Moore (R-2) said the county Health Department, which opposed the new clinic ordinance, had warned that West Cecil could be negatively impacted by the changes but Broomell had ignored the warning. Moore and Hodge voted against the rushed approval of the clinic law.

With the co-operation of Commissioners Board President James Mullin (R-1), Broomell rushed the ordinance through, with a surprise final approval vote just seconds after the conclusion of a public hearing on it. Commissioner Michael Dunn (R-3) joined them in the usual “Three Amigos” voting pattern on the current commissioners’ board.

Broomell, who has filed as a candidate for County Executive in this year’s election, has indicated she wants to block a proposed drug treatment facility on Route 40 at the site of the former Rose’s Diner. That facility already had many of its permits, but area residents want to kill the clinic.

Other than her pledge to “testify” on behalf of West Cecil at a Board of Appeals hearing, Broomell did not address any of the other issues and time-sensitive concerns raised by the primary care facility.

[For background information, on how the new clinic ordinance was rushed through without advance notice to the public or other commissioners, SEE Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/01/cecil-county-amigos-rush-vote-on-clinic-ordinance-no-notice-to-other-commish-public/

[For information on concerns about the definition of clinics, including objections by Union Hospital, SEE previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/01/paging-dr-broomell-cecil-county-commissioners-differ-on-diagnosis-of-drug-clinics-law-litigation/

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3 Responses to Cecil County Primary Care Clinic Caught in Crossfire of New Law Aimed at Limiting Drug Treatment

  1. Alexis on January 18, 2012 at 12:48 am

    It is painfully clear that Broomell was trolling for votes from the uninformed, dragging along fellow Amigos Mullin and Dunn. Wake up, Cecil County voters.

  2. Nancy Turner on January 18, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    The attempt to “target” because of the medically-approved medication given by any health care professional is unacceptable. Bringing your personal opinion into politics always results in bad decisions. Doctors are “for profit,” but are not considered a harm to the community. Many doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and hospices use methadone in their therapies, but when you are treating a “targeted” population, you are treated like the criminal in the community.

    Having a public official use this as a way to get her name into a political race has brought much harm to the community.

    If anyone that gives methadone to a “part” of the population be called a “methadone clinic,” like it is a “shooting gallery,” we will need to closed every doctors office, pharmacy, nursing home, hospice center, and then the hospital itself. No one will want to seek drug free treatment when these public official have called a comprehensive treatment program a “meth clinic.”

  3. Al Reasin on January 20, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    As I have written before, the commissioners were given information on the very narrow Baltimore County ordinance that was tested in the 4th Federal Court of Appeals. It withstood the scrutiny of the court except for its applicability for unlimited retroactive enforcement. Today I checked with the Baltimore County counsel who provided me the information, who I had presented as the contact point, and was told, to his knowledge, no one from Cecil County had contacted him but me.

    I have provided the same information to an Elkton resident who wrote me that he presented it to the town council on Thursday, 1/19/12. Hopefully the Elkton town council will produce a narrow structured ordinance that protects the property rights and safety of citizens without unduly burdening medical facilities such as West Cecil.

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